When I talk with small business owners or look at their websites, one of the frequently-asked questions (or subject that I notice requires attention) is how often should you update your website, and how many websites are filled with outdated information.
To be clear, when I talk about updating a website I’m talking about the text, information, or pictures. I’m not talking about layout or design. Unless your design is completely outdated or in some way broken, I’m not a huge fan of massive design changes every few years. I much prefer small incremental changes based on testing and user data. But that’s a subject for another post. In this post, I want to talk about the content and and actual words on your website.
[pullquote]…you need to develop a plan to keep adding new content on a regular basis… [/pullquote]So how often should you update your content? Ideally, as often as possible, but especially whenever you have something new worth talking about. At this stage, most websites really should be running some sort of CMS, WordPress, joomala, drupal, pixelsilk or something else that is somewhat SEO friendly out of the box or with a little customization. The downsides to using a CMS include things like maintenance and updates, which in some cases come so frequently they can become burdensome (look squarely in the direction of WordPress and Matt Mullenwegg). But the ability to edit, change, add, and remove pages without needing a webmaster who charges billable hours to do it is key for keeping your website fresh and up to date.
The first thing I always recommend is a content audit . Look at what pages you have, which pages are driving traffic, and which pages aren’t. Look for pages that are outdated. Do they have value as part of your archive library, or do they just need to be reviewed and tightened up? If you will be updating an existing page, I strongly suggest using a living URL approach.
Once that’s done, you need to develop a plan to keep adding new content on a regular basis. How often you should add new content depends on your situation and particular business. Some businesses have a lot to talk about, some have less. You should add new information when you have something worth saying or sharing.
Many times I’ll get resistance along the lines of “we don’t know what to write about.” I’ll share a bit of advice I got from Joe Larato of Tandem Interactive: start a work diary. Make notes and write about the different projects you work on (make sure you aren’t violating any client confidentiality agreements of course). As a real world example, I did some work for a wedding photographer last year. Every week they wrote about a wedding that one of their photographers shot the week before. They emphasized writing about new locations they hadn’t already written about. They also talked about weddings that were shot with different styles, photojournalistic wedding photos, artistic wedding photos, and classic wedding photos. This created a nice wide set of keywords that included locations and photography styles for the search engines to index and return when people were typing in those terms.
Ok, ok. You’ve read all the way through this article and I still haven’t given you a real answer about how often you should update your website. To be honest, I don’t want to give a hard number answer because it means you’re like the kid in class who who always asked “Will this be on the test?” It shows you’re more concerned with passing the test than actually learning. But I’ll try to be a little more helpful. If you can add one or two pages a week, you will be in really good shape. If that’s too ambitious, shoot for one or two a month. Anything less than one new page a month, and it’s pretty likely Google will see your website as stale. I also recommend dripping out new content at regular intervals, not in clumps. One article per week for four weeks in a row is much better than four articles one week followed bythree weeks of inactivity. If it’s easier/cheaper to produce your content in batch, by all means do so, just schedule the actual publishing over time.
Lastly, let’s talk about making the content accessible to humans and search engines. If you are engaging in outbound marketing like an email newsletter, absolutely include links to your new content in the email messages. There is no substitute for clicks tracked through Gmail or toolbar/user data generated by real users. Depending on your architecture, your new pages may reside several layers deep and several clicks away from the homepage. You need to shorten that distance. Put links to your newest content on your homepage. This guarantees that the search engines will find it as soon as possible. I would recommend investing in some programming that automatically adds links to new content to your homepage and removes the “oldest” new content. Make sure you also update your HTML and XML site maps and ping the appropriate services. Adding plugins or programming to do this for you automatically is worth investing time/money in.
What are the takeaways from this post
- If possible, migrate away from flat file or include files and use a CMS that makes it easy to add new content.
- Do an audit of your existing content. Look for old, low quality, or under-performing content. Make the decision to remove or update it. Try to use a living URL strategy to preserve existing link equity.
- Determine a realistic and sustainable plan to add/update new content on a regular basis.
- Try to add content that is useful and has terms that searchers are using. Avoid industry jargon if it’s being used as a search term.
- Talk about the work you are doing or projects you are working on if you can.
- Add new content at regular intervals. Avoid dumping new content out in clumps if possible.
- The more new content you can add, the better. One to two new pages a week is ideal. One to two a month is ok,. Less frequently than once a month makes your website look stale and dated.
- Add links to new content to your homepage, email marketing, Twitter, or Facebook accounts. The more places a search engine sees the links and users click on them, the better.
- Update your HTML and XML site maps and ping the appropriate services. Making this process automatic can save time and drudgery from the process.
photo credit: Photospin